Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Jackson has urged his colleagues on the bench to back solicitors who want to unbundle services.
Jackson, whose recommendations for fixed costs are being considered by the government, said his plans will inevitably mean law firms break up work to offer individual services. He acknowledged the profession still has misgivings but said it was up to judges not to penalise solicitors for taking the plunge.
Speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum today, Jackson described unbundling as the ‘best way to ensure the best use of professional services in the context of more litigation in person’. He added: ‘Concerns about the nervousness that creates are perfectly understandable, but it is the job of all of us to see those concerns are sufficiently met.’
Clients, suggested Jackson, should also be made aware of the scope of work they should expect from their lawyer: ’If you give a solicitor a limited task to do and limited costs for doing it, you can’t then blame the solicitor for not doing something else which is completely different – you can’t have your cake and eat it,’ he said. ‘If we are going to have a fixed costs regime we must limit the work those costs cover.’
It is almost two years since Jackson himself ruled that solicitors could offer unbundled services without being liable for matters beyond those in their client retainer.
Earlier this year, the SRA announced plans to publish guidance on unbundling to encourage more practitioners to feel they can offer bespoke services.
In his review of the future civil justice, published in July 2016, Lord Justice Briggs acknowledged the difficulty in assuming that solicitors would be able to easily modify their business model to provide uncouple advice. He said the profession was ‘apprehensive’ of incurring negligence liability for providing less of a service than regarded at present as ‘culturally normal’.
But Briggs, now a Supreme Court judge, said the time had come to face up to these challenges and seek to provide affordable early advice.